Wrexham-based Sion Hughes said he was “shocked” after winning the coveted Junior Chef of Wales title at the Welsh International Culinary Championships (WICC) held at Grwp Llandrillo Menai’s Rhos-on-Sea campus last week (Thursday).
In a captivating final featuring four of the top chefs in Wales aged between 17-23, Hughes, who works at Carden Park, Chester, impressed the judges with his scintillating take on a three-course meal for four people that included a vegan starter, a main course including Welsh lamb, and a dessert with Welsh honey. They had three hours to complete the challenge.
The 20-year-old will now be seeded through to the semi-finals of the Young National Chef of the Year organised by the Craft Guild of Chefs. All four Welsh finalists had qualified by winning their challenging regional events.
“I am absolutely thrilled to have won, but I have to admit that I am shocked!” said Hughes. “I wasn’t expecting to win at all. The other three chefs are of a very good calibre so the standard was high in the final. To have won is brilliant. It will take a while to sink in.”
He will now go on an all-expenses-paid visit to the the Worldchefs Congress 2020 with the Culinary Association of Wales, who organised the WICC, where he will be part of the Worldchefs Young Chefs Club.
In addition, he will be invited to a study tour hosted by Koppert Cress in the Netherlands and received a set of engraved F. Dick Knives, as well as £100 worth of Churchill products.
The event was also an opportunity for the judges – Colin Gray, chairman of the judges; Culinary Team Wales manager, Nick Davies; Junior Culinary Team Wales junior team manager, Michael Evans; and Junior Culinary Team Wales coach, Danny Burke – to cast their eyes over the best up-and-coming talent as they prepare for big events on the horizon including the Junior Culinary Olympics in Germany.
Hughes’s winning combination had a starter of Jerusalem artichoke and wild mushroom risotto, followed by a herb crusted Rhug Estate loin of lamb with shoulder fritter, ratte mash, pickled onion and dust, and beer vinegar. He created a rhubarb tart for dessert with vanilla cremeux, honey glass, yoghurt and honey sorbet.
He edged out Oliver Thompson, 20, chef de partie at The Bull, Beaumaris, into second, with Thomas Martin, 22, sous chef at The Brook Bistro in Whitchurch, Cardiff, and the Celtic Manor’s Daniel Britton, 21, third and fourth respectively.
A runner-up last year also, Thompson had opened with a Snowdonia mushroom gnocchi starter consisting of mushroom ketchup, chives and Welsh truffle. His main course of braised neck of lamb, rosemary rosti and leeks was followed by a Felin honey dessert including yoghurt and white chocolate.
Martin was another finalist last year and prepared a salad of brassicas, hazelnut and black garlic for starter followed by a main course of a loin of Welsh lamb, lamb kidneys, seasonal vegetables and seaweed and a dessert of Welsh honey and miso millefeuille, honey and milk ice cream and apple.
Britton opened his menu with a crispy leek and potato tortellini, baked potato espuma and baked potato broth and chive olive dressing. He followed it up with a main of loin of lamb, pan roasted lamb kidney, roasted red onion, turnip, confit carrots, mint gel, salt baked swede and lamb jus. His dessert included honey mousse, hibiscus and blackcurrant poached rhubarb, honey and hibiscus cake and pumpkin seed brittle.
The WICC are organised by the Culinary Association of Wales and the main sponsor is Food and Drink Wales, the Welsh Assembly Government’s department representing the food and drink industry.